Friday, January 30, 2009
Sponsored by Redbull and hosted by Boston MC Akrobatik, this event was a musical clash of the titans: in one corner (or stage, rather), Philly's finest, the legendary Roots crew. Hardest working band in show business, twenty years strong, and by far and wide the best live showmen I have ever witnessed. In the second corner, Brooklyn's own United Colors of Afro-funk, Antibalas. The house band for the musical Fela!, the closest thing to Africa '70 possible, and in Questlove's words, the most "airtight" collective going (I'm almost positive this whole show was his idea too).
Boston's Roxy is relatively tiny, so even though it was sold out and packed, the actual crowd space was intimate. Sandwiched between each band's stage, the crowd whipped around every round to give their full attention to the spotlighted contestants. First was the warm up, fifteen minutes of breakneck jamming: the Roots threw down "Thought @ Work," "Here I Come" and "Game Theory." (As soon as they filed out, I noticed a special guest, though he went unannounced the whole night; holding down the organ front was Randy Watson-er James Poyser, legendary key man behind Al Green's latest, D'Angelo, Erykah, Common and every other Soulquarian production out there.) Then, it was Antibalas' turn: 12 members deep, vocalist/conga man Amayo's face painted and horns blasting. (This was the first time I had seen Antibalas play, and I could not have been more pleased. Cuban, West African, funk, dub, jazz...it's all there, and then some.)
The first round was the "Cover", where the night's DJ threw out a tune and each band had to copy it in their relative style. The theme was TV shows, and it kicked off with a nod to Boston; "Cheers." Then came "The Jeffersons" and "Night Rider" (and I hate to spoil any of this for anyone, but I will just say it early on, none of this was a surprise for either band, I saw the very detailed set list, but who gives a shit, this show ruled and still was filled with improvisation). Then came round two, the "Takeover": each band started their own tune, and the other had to finish it to the best of their musical genre's ability. The Roots gave Antibalas "Star/Response," and Antibalas threw back "Payback Africa," before Black Thought went into his excellent "solo" joint "Please Don't Go." Third round was the "Clash", and the house DJ gave each band a genre they technically are not associated with (although both bands blend and defy genre at all times, incorporating elements from each of these): reggae, jazz and gospel (Poyser killed on the last, his organ is straight up Southern Baptist). The last round was the "Joker", the wild card, where each band brought on a guest of their choosing (and this was where I thought they would acknowledge Poyser's presence to the crowd) and Antibalas brought out Philly's DJ Rich Medina for some spoken word, and the Roots brought out saxophonist Gary Bartz to help out on their show closing "You Got Me" operetta.
The icing on the already epic cake was the finale, where both bands got on one stage (it was some Earth, Wind and Fire shit) and one of Antibalas' guitarists threw down a mean version of Michael McDonald's "What a Fool Believes" as Black Thought laughed and joined in (this is also where Tuba Gooding Jr. picked up Thought's denim jacket and started fanning him with it, James Brown style, and cloaked him with it like a cape), the whole crowd creaming in their yacht rock pants.
Was there a winner? No. Was it the best show I've seen in recent memory? Yes. Are you jealous? You should be.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The interview of my life.
Ahmir Thompson on the phone from Seoul, South Korea
By ISABELLE DAVIS
Drummer, producer, DJ and music buff extraordinaire (he owns every episode of Soul Train and has a vinyl collection that rivals most), Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson has been the musical director and leader of the legendary Roots crew for over 20 years now. Here, we discuss Antibalas stalking, the musical Fela! and the Roots' new gig as Jimmy Fallon's house band.
HI. VERY, VERY NICE TO MEET YOU, AHMIR.
Oh, hey. What's up? How you doing?
HOW'S ASIA GOING?
Oh, it's wonderful. It's great, you know.
FIRST OF ALL, CONGRATULATIONS ON LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON. I THINK IT'S GREAT. HOW DID THIS COME ABOUT? WERE YOU GUYS JUST A NATURAL CHOICE?
Basically. I was the music supervisor for Chappelle's Show. So basically, Dave's partner, Neal Brennan, recommended me to both Jimmy and his producer. I think for a second Neal Brennan was going to be the producer of the Fallon show, but he declined because he has a movie development deal. But he still recommended that they hire me, to see if I was interested. You know, it was right up our alley. We've been doing this for 17 years and basically, you know, there's but so much you can see and travel in the world. From 1992 on, every year. And you know, we kinda wanted to slow down our schedule but not necessarily take a monetary dip. We tour to survive, so we can't just stay home or else, you know, we'd be in the poor house. This provides us the steady work and we get to stay home. And probably the best thing about it is, maybe for the first time in, like, eight years, I can finally devote a lot of hours to being in the studio. Which pretty much, after that 2000 run of Voodoo and Mama's Gun, and Common's two albums, you know, I pretty much stayed out of the studio unless it had anything to do with the Roots.
SINCE YOUR WEEKENDS WILL TECHNICALLY BE FREE, WHAT ARE SOME POTENTIAL PROJECTS?
We're going to keep the weekends open to do one-off gigs. I mean, we're retired from touring, but we'll still do as many weekend gigs as possible. Can't get totally
ARE YOU GUYS WORKING ON ANY POTENTIAL NEW ALBUMS, SOLO PROJECTS?
We started our 11th, I'll say three weeks ago, before we came over here.
ARE YOU JUST GOING TO TAKE YOUR TIME WITH IT?
I think in a perfect world we're trying to have it ready for July.
I READ A WHILE BACK YOU WANTED TO DO YOUR GRACELAND ALBUM POTENTIALLY IN CUBA. IS THAT SOMETHING THAT WILL STILL HAPPEN?
Well, that album would have actually been Game Theory. And the place that we chose to do it ...we were prepared to move to New Orleans in May of 2005. But then Katrina happened and that sort of went out the window because we literally lost contact with the brass band that we adopted earlier that year. But actually, come to think of it, that's kinda how Tuba Gooding Jr. wound up in the group, our new tuba player. Even though we had lost a brass band, I still wanted to do a brass experiment.
AND BRASS HEAVEN WAS TOURING WITH YOU GUYS FOR A WHILE.
Yeah, they basically became our ... you know. I had no idea Philadelphia even had a New Orleans-esque brass band. So we did an augmented version of the original. I mean the original Brass Heaven's like, 13, 14 members. Out of those four cats, we kept Tuba.
ARE YOU GUYS GOING TO DO ANOTHER ROOTS PICNIC THIS SUMMER? I WENT TO THE FIRST ONE.
Yes, we are. And this time I promise it's gonna be an actual picnic. We're new at this festival-throwing thing, so we forgot to figure in fatigue of the audience and how to protect them from the sun.
IT WAS GREAT, BUT I'M NOT GOING TO LIE, ONE OF MY FRIENDS FAINTED. BUT SHE WAS NOT HYDRATING.
Yeah, we were throwing water out. We actually, we've confirmed two days of lineup.
CAN YOU SPILL ANY OF THE GOSSIP?
Absolutely not. But this lineup will kick ass. That's all I can say. This lineup will absolutely kick ass. I actually suggested we pull back a little bit because the lineup's so damn good that I don't know how we can top it next year. And plus it's spread out to two days. I'm not even worried about this year, I'm worried about the future. All I can say is we have a potential four great rock acts, two world acts, four hip-hop acts. I mean, these are tentative, they still have yet to confirm. It's gonna be a great mixture of the two.
I CHATTED WITH THE REVEREND AL GREEN A COUPLE MONTHS AGO AND I ASKED HIM IF HE WAS POTENTIALLY EVER GONNA DO ANOTHER ALBUM WITH YOU AND JAMES POYSER. AND HE ANSWERED WITH A VERY, VERY ENTHUSIASTIC "YES." IS THAT SOMETHING THAT COULD BE A POSSIBILITY FOR YOU DOWN THE LINE?
Yeah, you know, once you go Randy Watson, you can't go back.
AND SPEAKING OF WHICH, KUDOS ON THE GRAMMY NODS FOR THAT ALBUM.
Thank you. I promised him that he'd get one Grammy nomination, not four.
I THINK YOU WERE ROBBED FOR PRODUCER OF THE YEAR.
You know what? Actually believe it or not, I'm more happy that we got engineering. [Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical]
DO YOU MIND COMMENTING AT ALL ON THE RECENT BUZZ THAT [D'ANGELO'S] JAMES RIVER IS COMING OUT IN THE NEXT MONTHS?
He's not calling it James River and in a pleasant surprise, I'm one of the last elements to be added. Which basically means he's at least more than halfway done, which in D'Angelo speak is a miracle.
I'VE HEARD VARIOUS THINGS, LIKE, IT HAS A MORE ROCK ELEMENT, IT'S THIS, IT'S THAT. CAN YOU COMMENT AT ALL?
I can only go on, the material I've worked ... the last I touched this record was in 2004 and that was when he was going all the way rock. However, I am to believe at least in our conversations that he did 100 percent just actually a clean slate. I knew that Erykah's New Amerykah was real inspirational to him, so perhaps he's taken a more esoteric turn. But I'm actually not going to hear none of the material until I get to Los Angeles the day after tomorrow.
DO YOU MIND MY ASKING, SO YOU GUYS ARE COOL NOW?
Yeah, so under the bridge, we made up at Erykah's show earlier in March. It's history.
SO LET'S TALK ABOUT THIS SOUND CLASH. HAVE YOU GUYS EVER PLAYED WITH ANTIBALAS BEFORE?
I'm probably the world's biggest Antibalas stalker. I've always been a fan of theirs, but I didn't start my stalking mission probably until they became the house band for the Fela! musical. I still dream of that shit. That's probably the best entertainment ... I mean people ask me, "What's your favorite concert that you've been?" I'd probably have to say the seven or eight times I've seen that. Even now, like all the people that I meet, go and the people that I've bought tickets for, they're still speaking of it. To me, it's just perfect ... they're just so airtight. They do it with such ease and such quietness. The hardest thing in the world is to play quiet and be airtight. And the fact that they are just so studied without shaking is amazing to me.
WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2008?
Um, 2008, um. I definitely, definitely, definitely dug Erykah's ... I mean even though I was part of that record, I still consider my role so minor that I can listen to it as a fan. I hate to be those artists that they, you know, mention their product first.
IF IT'S GOOD, IT'S GOOD.
Yeah, I've really enjoyed just, you know, her work. Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It, was one of my favorite albums of the year. Probably the most surprising record, Q-Tip's The Renaissance. I would actually also say that this is probably the first time in a long time that a lot of singing albums made a registration in my list. I've really enjoyed and I'm very surprised and happy with Jazmine Sullivan's album, and who else? I also like Esperanza Spaulding's album. Santogold, her album was great. I'm also under the impression that TV on the Radio can do no wrong. We did a project with them this year that hopefully will come out in the first quarter. Our first collaborative effort is a gospel song. It's a duet between Tariq, Kyp and um, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ... ahhhhhhhhhhhh. Forgive me, I'm sorry. It's past midnight.
IS TARIQ EVER GONNA RELEASE THE SOLO WORK THAT'S BEEN FLOATING AROUND? IS HE MAYBE GONNA TAKE SOME TIME SINCE YOU GUYS WILL BE IN A MORE PERMANENT LOCATION TO DO THAT? WHAT'S THE REST OF THE BAND GOING TO DO?
I assume that all our studio activity will triple now that we are in one steady place. Not to mention, we actually convinced those guys to build us a studio in the dressing room.
ARE YOU GUYS GONNA BE IN ANY OF THE BITS? ARE YOU GONNA TRADE ZINGERS LIKE CONAN AND BAMBA DO?
Oh, yeah. I told Fallon instantly, like, anytime you come up with any "Year 2000"-esque skits, I'm singing that shit. I actually have my first meeting with them on the Monday after we do this Sound Clash.
THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK WITH ME. AND AT THE RISK OF SOUNDING UNPROFESSIONAL AND TOTALLY STARSTRUCK, I'VE BEEN LISTENING TO YOU GUYS SINCE I WAS 10 OR 11, AND YOUR MUSIC HAS IMPACTED MY LIFE ... NOT JUST WITH THE ROOTS, BUT EVERYTHING. VOODOO MADE ME WANT TO BE A MUSIC JOURNALIST.
Alright! Thank you!
THE ROOTS VS. ANTIBALAS
279 TREMONT ST., BOSTON
music: ?uestlove [Weekly Dig]
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Still, I have to give major props to Lil' Wayne. I wasn't blown away by Carter III, but as you know I am all for any mainstream artist crossing over or bleeding into genres outside their scene. Mix it up for mixing it up's sake, na mean? Kanye's big experiment is, well, not as terrible as it sounded at first. Expectations aside, at least 'Ye has tricked a lot of people who claim they only like hip-hop into listening to something synthy and '80s and heartfelt. Same for this new Weezy project: I like where he was going on Carter III with the whole Sun Ra/Funkadelic/Bowie "I'm an alien" vibe, but I don't think the music on his record actually backed up any of that weirdness. Here's hoping Rebirth is experimental enough to finally deliver on those expectations.
And then there's the fact that the man has a work ethic unparalleled in today's music industry (furthermore in hip-hop its practically a miracle of science). You know this is going to be out sooner than Detox, and Dre's been working on that for a decade now.
Finally, here is a picture Idolator ran last week of Weezy standing next to Katie Couric, holding a green bowling ball:
Lil Wayne's "Rock" LP: Will It Come Out Before "Detox"? [idolator]
Lil Wayne Performs at CMA Awards, Sort Of [vulture]
Friday, January 23, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I picked this up over the weekend at Dusty Groove, the consummate soul, R&B, funk, hip-hop and jazz record super store. I luckily live a stone's throw from the Chicago locale, which is like how all the addicts on Vh1's Sober House live up the hill from all their dealers in Hollywood.
Released in 1967, this album is superb. Now, I am not crazy about Diana Ross or her thin, reedy vocals, but I am crazy about Holland-Dozier-Holland and this was a truly golden find. Side one alone is home to two of my all time favorite songs: "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (best driving guitar line ever, Lamont Dozier was inspired by a news-flash radio signal and decided to use the Morse code like sound in the song) and "Love is Here and Now You're Gone." Side two kicks off with "It's the Same Old Song" and ends with "Love is Like a Heat Wave," but the lesser known gems are what truly round out this record. The somber and beautiful "You're Gone (But Always in My Heart)" and the lovely and twinkling "I Guess I'll Always Love You" are wonderful. But really, every song on this album is fantastic and some of the greatest pop song writing and studio instrumentation of all time is exhibited here.
1. Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster
People like to throw around the term "navel gazing" as a catch-all for angst-ridden lyrics and youthful sentiment. Yeah, when you're in your early twenties, it seems like your life is the whole world. But is that so bad? That's what this album made me wonder; there's something so vital and immediate in this over caffeinated band's first over caffeinated album. The lyrics go beyond conversational; they are conversations between the band members, and they sound like they could erupt into fistfights. Meanwhile, laser beam synths fight for prominence with sharp dueling guitars and really mean violin solos (who knew?). To summarize this band and its debut record in one word, I'd have to say "energy"; and that shouldn't be surprising, given this is an album with lots of exclamation points (in addition to the one in the band's name, there's song names like "You! Me! Dancing!" and just about every line within the songs also sounds like it warrants one or seven). There are too many great lines to get into quoting them here, but suffice it to say that if you want the fun back in your rock records, this is a record well worth the $10 or whatever albums cost these days.
1. Al Green-Lay It Down
Don't call it a comeback. He never left. He just needed what every great and legendary artist needs in this time of musical darkness: the permission to just be. No dance beats. No shitty and awkward duets with American Idol contestants. No Rolodex of hot shot producers. Just ?uestlove, James Poyser, the Dap-Kings and a few special friends (Spanky Alford, Anthony Hamilton, John Legend, Jaguar Wright and Corinne Bailey Rae, to be specific). This is perhaps the greatest American soul record to come out in almost a decade. And it's little wonder, because it was almost five years in the making, and like, twenty years over due. Completely organic, wonderfully engineered, gorgeously produced and simply beautiful.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
2. Cloud Cult - Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)Isabelle's pick:
Their last two albums were phenomenal experiences to immerse yourself in, but they were a bit overlong and somewhat all over the place. Feel Good Ghosts, however, is the most concise and complete album of their career, the first one that's completely solid from start to finish. I've said this here before, but Cloud Cult is the kind of band that I should hate: they're environmentally conscious, they live together on a farm in Minnesota, they have two full-time live painters in the band, and their music is so sincerely honest and confessional that it can make listeners feel downright uncomfortable (okay, I do like that last part). But the bottom line is that the stories and characters that Craig Minowa conjures in this set of songs are some of the most fascinating in recent years. "The Story of the Grandson of Jesus" tells the story of a proselytizer who serves "communion of Cola and Twinkies, guess everyone has their own view," while "Journey of the Featherless" is a tale of a narrator who dreams of flying to heaven with paper wings, only to undergo a mysterious transformation. Weird? Yes, but this is one of Cloud Cult's greatest strengths.
2. The Roots - Rising Down
Every single Roots album loses and gains new fans, and that's because they never make the same album twice. This one is the "Blade Runner" record, as ?uestlove has described it: dark, futuristic, grimy, synthed out and slick. Kamal traded in his standard Fender Rhodes and Tuba Gooding Jr. once again proved that the sousaphone is not just for marching bands-it can be down right chill inducing. I love this album for several reasons. First of all, the aggression and emotional darkness is electrifying. Secondly, as is the case with EVERY Roots' show, the organic deconstruction that each song takes on live is like listening to a whole new song, and those subtle nuances are what it's all about. And thirdly, this album introduces us to new bass man Owen Biddle, who definitely can hang. Jimmy Fallon, I hope you know how lucky you are.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
"How's this one begin, again?"And with that, the feedback grew and Los Campesinos! started into "All Your Keyfabe Friends," the closing track from We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, their latest LP. That same kind of fly by the seat of their pants attitude is infectious on both of their albums and was in full force last night at the band's brief set at Sound Fix in Williamsburg. The band played what seemed like a setlist comprised of all my favorite songs by the band, serving as a delightful taste of what's in store on the band's upcoming tour (they'll be back in NYC 2/14-15). Without violinist Adele Campesino, the band was slightly handicapped but no less energetic for the wear; it took a song for them to warm up but from there, they whipped the room into a frenzy (also, I don't know how they would've fit another person on that already cramped stage). And then, before we knew it, "this is our last song, because they told us to only play like four, and we haven't learned the rest without violin yet," Gareth Campesino announced before the slow burning intro to "You! Me! Dancing!" The closer seemed to come just as the party was getting started, but it was hard to complain as this concert was one of the most pleasant (and free!) surprises I've had in a long time. All that, and I got home by 9pm sharp.
Los Campesinos! [myspace]
We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed [eMusic]
Photo Credit: brooklynvegan
3. Rhymefest - Mark Ronson presents Rhymefest in Man in the MirrorIsabelle's pick:
Best hip-hop record of the year? You bet. And it never even came out in stores. Mark Ronson applies his pop scented hip-hop production to a concept mash up of a mixtape, employing nothing but Michael Jackson (and the Jackson 5, natch) samples spanning the King of Pop's career to craft the perfect sonic landscape for 'Fest and his cohorts to rhyme on. As an added bonus, we get remixes of classic Jackson-sampling hip-hop tracks like Ghostface's "All That I've Got is You" and De La Soul's "Breakadawn." The homage reaches a new level on "No Sunshine," which finds 'Fest riffing on Jackson riffing on Bill Withers. It's free, so if you don't have it already, there's really no excuse.
3. Estelle - Shine
I think Estelle is John Legend's way of making up for his shitty Liberace schtick these last few years. I believe that this is his way of saying I DO still have good taste and I AM a talented musician, see what I brought you? Pure British R&B/pop gold. Sassy, sexy, talent for days...Estelle is just amazing. She can rap, she can sing the shit out of anything, and she can write too. You already know how I feel about "American Boy." I feel just as good about the rest of this record. She and John Legend singing together is nothing short of beautiful, like Marvin and Tammi, except not in love and not as good, but you know what I mean. And this album has Cee-Lo!
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
4. She and Him - Volume One
Zooey Deschanel has been melting my heart since she played William Miller's older sister in Almost Famous. Even though she sings, hearing the news that she was pursuing a recording career, with M. Ward nonetheless, I braced myself for an indie scene clusterfuck of epic proportions. What I heard once I finally took the plunge and listened, was quite the opposite: Deschanel became the first actress-cum-musician that you don't want to poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Alternating between '60s style girl group stylings ("I Was Made For You," "Sweet Darling") and confessional ballads ("Change is Hard," "Sentimental Heart"), this album delivers emotional sincerity with a knowing wink. I'm still hoping that the title of this collection isn't just a hint at future endeavors. Volume One has a truly timeless feel; it's an album your dad will love (in a good way).
4. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah, Part One (4th World War)I swear to everything sacred Erykah Badu is not human. She is a magical and spectacular goddess who was sent to Dallas, Texas to melt face. Seeing her live is life changing, and seeing her perform this album live was an out of body experience. "Telephone," her gorgeous tribute to her mentor and friend Dilla, brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it. I cannot wait for the next Amerykah installment. I just want to hang out with her. You know, cruise around Brooklyn, smoking a j, listening to music that hasn't been invented yet, talking about André 3000. I mean that in the least creepy way possible, really.
Monday, January 12, 2009
5. Alphabeat - This is Alphabeat
Does anyone do power pop like the Danes? No. Maybe that country is not as bright and sparkly as its musical exports would have us believe. Nonetheless, if there were any justice, this band would rule the pop charts. I dare you to listen to "Fascination"and not want to dance. Ditto for almost every track on here.
5. Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It
I cannot stress enough how much I love Raphael Saadiq. To me, he is the J Dilla of R&B. He has been behind like, 75% of the music that I love since I was I don't know, 10. Everything he touches turns to gold. This album was a departure from his prior "gospeldelic" records and instead was a straight up love letter to Motown. A Funk Brother on percussion? Check. Stevie Wonder playing harmonica on "Never Give You Up"? Double check. Snappy doo-wop steeped R&B? Triple check.
*Void outside the U.S. and in all 50 states.
Friday, January 9, 2009
6. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
A bummer of a record in the best possible way from this Scottish four piece. More of a breakdown album than a breakup album (though you could make a case for both), singer Scott Hutchison lures you in with lyrics that cut like a knife, like this line from "Keep Yourself Warm": "It takes more than fucking someone you don't know to keep warm/ Do you really think that for a house beat you'll find love in a hole?" The best part is this album's truly a grower; come for the anxiety laced story, stay for the music, which is raw, tight, and incredibly well produced (see also Liver! Lung! FR!, the live version released in late 2008). Last but not least, this album is perfectly paced, sucking you in at the first track with "The Modern Leper" and refusing to let you go.
6. 88-Keys - The Death of Adam
A punani concept album? That isn't offensive? And also fantastic? Seems too good to be true. However, producer extraordinaire 88-Keys didn't want to release just any solo record, and as a result, pulled off the unthinkable: a cohesive, fun, entertaining and above all, thought provoking story. With excellent cameos from BFFs Kanye West, Bilal, J*Davey, Phonte of Little Brother and Redman, this album is one of the greatest hip-hop records to come out in a dog's age.
The Best Music Scribing Awards of 2008 [PopMatters]
Thursday, January 8, 2009
8. The Black Keys - Attack and ReleaseIsabelle's Picks:
The blues rock two piece shows Jack White how it's meant to be done. 2004's Rubber Factory, the only other Black Keys record I'm very familiar with, was a great album of blues jams, but this album, produced by the brilliant Danger Mouse (and it sounds like he brought his keyboards with him!), truly takes the band a step further conceptually. Rather than just blasting you with gritty guitar and drums, this set of songs swirls around you, unraveling more with each listen.
7. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Sometimes divorcing yourself from the buzz works really, really well. This was one of those cases: when this band's name started whipping around the internet early in 2008 I didn't want to know anything about it. Eventually, I heard the record, and I was blown away. It's such a nice record, I can't believe there was all that buzz about these breezy melodies and vaguely African rhythms. This isn't a new trick (see: everything the Talking Heads recorded) but these kids are doing it well on this LP.
8. Jazmine Sullivan - Fearless
Philly jawns stand up. This album would be higher up on my list, but there are like three tracks ("After the Hurricane," "Dream Big" and "Live a Lie" could all be better) that I feel hold this record back from flawless greatness. Otherwise, Missy Elliott's protege's album has been on repeat since dropping. "Call Me Guilty" is the best abused woman revenge tune around and of course the first singles "Need U Bad" and "Bust Your Windows" are stellar. My favorite one though, is "In Love with Another Man," which is all emotion, a bittersweet ballad about being unable to move on, even though it's in every one's best interest.
7. Rhymefest - Mark Ronson presents Rhymefest in The Man in the Mirror
Technically not an album per se, but nevertheless, a cohesive and amazing effort from one of my favorite rappers out there. First of all, the "conversations" between 'Fest and MJ are nothing short of perfection and secondly, this tided me over marvelously because Rhymefest's "sophomore" record El Che got pushed back to '09. This mix tape is the ultimate low key party or BBQ record--it revisits every fantastic Jackson tune from his childhood days on, with the added bonus of Rhymefest's straight up genius.
Monday, January 5, 2009
9. Tim Fite - Over the Counter Culture
You know how I spent the whole year complaining about how hip-hop has no life, no verve, none of the sense of adventure or immediacy that made it such a vital form in the first place? Well, singer-songwriter/hip-hop folkie Tim Fite knows what I was talking about. Far flung beats, live instrumentation, even some scratching are to be found here, along with some of the most darkly comic and creative wordplay I've heard in a long time. On album opener "Place Your Bets," Fite gets deep on some anatomy shit: "Tell me true/ Can you ever win back the limb you lose?/ Or do you just lose your limbs again and again/ Until your life lies limbless/ There's limits to how much independence you can give an appendage/ Before the end of the hand is definitive/ That's why this tale is regenerative." Another highlight is "I've Been Shot," an ode to taking a cap to boost your record sales. "You know that I'm better than the next guy/ Even though we both sound exactly alike/ Is that Jadakiss or is that Tim Fite?" muses Fite on "It's All Right Here," winking at the stagnant rap scene he's trying to single handedly represent. [NOTE: I finalized my list and wrote this summary before realizing this record came out in February of 2007. Typical late discovery for me, but you know what? I don't care, this record was huge for me this year, and you can just comment your heart out if it bothers you.]
9. Q-Tip - The Renaissance
Having this album on my list is huge for me. Apart from some random singles (like the wonderful Dilla-d out "Let's Ride" and "Get Involved," a Saadiq collaboration from the PJ's soundtrack) Tip's solo career has been less than titillating for me. However, with this new record, we finally get the passion and essence of the former ATCQer that we have been missing. Even his track with Norah Jones is dope. With cameos from Saadiq, Amanda Diva and the mighty D'Angelo, The Renaissance eschews all that flashy "Vivrant Thing" bullshit and brings Tip back to basics. He produced the whole record himself, apart from the Dilla beat used for "Move," and the result is strictly butter.
Friday, January 2, 2009
10. Baby Elephant - Turn My Teeth Up!
Turn My Teeth Up shows that he knows how to bring Worrell’s experimentation into a cohesive work of funk-pop-soul-jazz-rock. The record is rounded out by guest vocals from David Byrne, Reggie Watts and George Clinton, among others. This is the album I was hoping Gnarls Barkley would release this year.
10. Mariah Carey -
God is she my favorite crazy. I will hang out in her Hello Kitty themed room any day of the week if it means she cranks out more bouncy R&B gems like "I'm That Chick" and "Touch My Body." Yes, it's not as epic as The Emancipation of Mimi, but it is pure pop greatness, from the Queen of Pop Greatness. The "Mine Again" of the album is the James Poyser produced "I Wish You Well," which makes me cry, further proving that just like Mariah, I am forever a 12 year-old girl. Also, props to Mimi for having the balls to name her record after the mass-energy equivalence formula, because we all know she can barely add.
'08 Rap-Up [MySpace]